Will you or won’t you get an epidural? It’s a standard question you’ll get while pregnant so be prepared!
Epidurals aren’t the only pain management option for women in labor, but they are the go-to method for more than 50% of women giving birth in a hospital. As far as pros and cons, there are plenty of each, which is why you should research the choice ahead of time.
Even though epidurals are the standard nowadays, there are serious risks. I’ve had three epidurals and the latter two times, the rundown of risks scared the hell out of me. The first time I was in so much pain they could have told me they were cutting off my legs and I would have agreed.
That being said, when you choose to get an epidural, you are agreeing to the following risks:
- Your blood pressure may suddenly drop.
- You may experience a severe headache caused by leakage of spinal fluid. This is the risk that made me think twice because the thought of that happening was terrifying although it happens in less than 1% of women.
- You may experience side effects such as shivering, a ringing of the ears, backache, soreness where the needle is inserted, nausea, or difficulty urinating. The epidural placement was actually the worst part of my labor and delivery. The catheter initially went to one side and had to be placed again. My back was also sore afterward.
- Pushing may become more difficult due to a lack of feeling and may require further intervention.
- For a few hours after the birth, the lower half of your body may feel numb.
- In rare instances, permanent nerve damage may result in the area where the catheter was inserted.
Every woman is different as is every labor and delivery and every epidural. There is a reason women who have previously had a baby will laugh at first-time moms attempting to put together an elaborate birth plan.
Not only can things change course minute-by-minute, but the level of pain, ease of which an epidural is administered, and the effectiveness of that epidural can also change things.
One great example of this is the risk of epidurals stalling labor. When I was taking birth classes to prepare for my first baby, I heard all about waiting until active labor to having an epidural because it could stop contractions altogether.
As it turned out, however, epidurals speed up labor for me. Each time I received an epidural, the relaxing effect of the medication dilated me from three or four to 10 in under two hours. I’ve heard from other women that this was the case for them too. While you can find some accounts of this, hard evidence will point to the contrary.
Other benefits of epidurals include:
- The ability to rest during labor. The pushing process can be long, tedious, and exhausting, especially if it is your first baby. Getting in a nap before that process is a great benefit to have.
- Pain management. Obviously.
- More enjoyment of the delivery process. I genuinely enjoyed delivering my first baby, which was unexpected.
The Big Decision
You don’t have to make your decision now, but the practices and procedures around administering an epidural will vary by hospital. Some give epidurals through injection into the catheter while others give medication using a pump. The time frame around giving an epidural will also vary.
Talking to your doctor ahead of time about those parameters is an important part of your birth plan so you can be as informed as possible in the heat of the moment.
FREE guide “The Most Important Pregnancy Decisions You’ll Have to Make”